On June 21, 2021, Limetree Bay Energy (Limetree) announced that it will be suspending its plans to re-open Limetree Bay Refinery indefinitely due to severe financial constraints. The facility, once one of the largest oil refineries in the world, shut down in mid-May following a series of incidents and a major flare that sprayed oil on nearby neighborhoods. This flare occurred after air emissions sickened downwind community members for several days with symptoms including migraines, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, and fainting. Many residents were sent to the emergency room or had to seek temporary shelter, and government offices as well as schools had to close due to the harmful air pollution.
“Clean air, clean water, and clean soils are not aesthetic luxuries but essential human rights,” says Jennifer Valiulis, Executive Director of St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA).
For several months, SEA and its partners have advocated that the refinery be held accountable to applicable environmental and public health laws and policies. SEA’s advocacy has emphasized that adequate monitoring equipment, including monitoring equipment in the hands of community members, must be in place to ensure that the St. Croix community – long overburdened by serious environmental justice issues – is protected from toxic refinery pollution.
As a community organization, SEA recognizes that the loss of jobs associated with the refinery closure is significant and will impact many St. Croix families. SEA is hopeful that, during this indefinite pause in oil refining, government and business leaders will look for means to diversify the economy consistent with sustainable development principles, and will build on equitable economic opportunities that do not compromise the health and well-being of the community. “Our island deserves better. SEA is committed to advocating for the health and welfare of our community,” says Jennifer Valiulis.
Limetree’s announcement comes at the heels of many months of documented financial troubles. Having run over a year behind schedule and over a billion dollars over budget, the refinery was heavily impacted by a decline in oil demand due to the COVID19 pandemic. According to Reuters, the refinery lost 93% of its investment value in the first quarter of 2020.
A Community Impact Survey designed and organized by Dr. David Bond (a professor from Bennington College in Vermont), Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT), St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), and VI Good Food Coalition. continues to gather evidence of widespread health impacts from operational failures at the refinery. The survey can be accessed online at: www.bennington.edu/Limetree.
In addition to the flares and fumes that preceded Limetree’s shutdown in mid-May, this refinery has been the source of several documented environmental incidents preceding and during the restart process including: pollution from over 500 pounds of polystyrene foam from derelict floats associated with the refinery’s offshore pipeline construction in September 2019; an overflow of stormwater containing oil from a retention pond in August 2020; a hydrocarbon release in December 2020; and a flaring event just three days after the refinery’s official restart in February 2021, which sprayed the surrounding neighborhoods with oil.